Walking Wall

-

The general consensus is, if a wall gets up and starts walking at you, get out of the way, because you can be assured that if you walk at it, it will not yield.

-

Walls—tragic though it may be—are destined to be knocked down. The best walls stood tall to protect their interests, without giving ground or showing cracks enough to let the enemy leisurely stroll inside. But the best walls—according to the Ostians, who had a penchant for the dramatic—were the ones that moved. The best walls had eyes and hands and, strange as it might sound, could actually strike back with pointy objects. Ostia, in fact, trained an army of them. Ostia, the land where theatre troupes were mercilessly stoned for misdelivering their lines in performances of Ostian Girls are Easy, the dramatically ironic satirical play about Ostian nobility (and the various paramours of the peers' courts). Ostia, the land where the nobles spoke in long sentences and coerced the editors of Ye Ostian Dictionaire to include the word "misdeliver." Ostia, the land that everyone loved to hate because it was big and influential and home to some of the greatest warriors in Lycia.

The walls in Ostia—and, in fact, the walls of Ostia Keep itself—were, as should be expected, remarkably sturdy. They took pride in their walls, behind which stood a fearsome array of onagers and cannonades. Ostia's walls, in fact, were not only nigh-indestructible, but were also made to fall apart in clean chunks, so that in a lull in a particularly fierce battle, any half-decent, quarter-witted stonemason could rebuild it with Ostian granite and a bucket of mortar. Ostian walls were solid. One wall in Ostia, known for its durability and reliability, had gone thirty years without a single visible crack.

Oswin's armor, indeed, was sturdy. Nigh-indestructible. As a product of Ostia's so-called "Walking Fortress Elite Knight Training Plan" (more lovingly known as the "Big Tank-ass Fatty Damage Sponge Program"), Oswin was not only loyal and stout, but his lance was at least as large as the ceremonial one hanging over the hearth in Uther's chambers. Hector, in the time he spent observing Oswin go about his business, reporting about royal matters to his brother Uther, could have sworn that every time Oswin entered the Grand Hall to scrupulously genuflect before his big bro, his armor became larger.

One day, when Oswin was lecturing a young Hector about something Hector did not remember (he wasn't paying attention), he bolted around the corner, wiping the sweat off his brow and congratulating himself for eluding Uther's most trusted knight. A half-second later, Oswin chugged around the corner and kindly requested a reason as to why-the-hell-would-you-do-something-like-that-and-what-if-Uther-knew-you-were-acting-like-such-a-crazy-ox? What the hell, Hector said incredulously and Oswin had that "you're gonna get it" look on his face, and Hector said Walls aren't supposed to move, and Oswin said I'm magic. Uther himself had once called Oswin the "original, quintessential walking wall".

So it came to be that until he was 16, Hector honestly believed that Oswin, true to his word, was genuinely a walking wall. Walls, of course, were made so that none shall pass. On his sixteenth birthday, after the gaudy "coming-of-age" ceremony where Uther lit candles then gave him books, Hector returned to his room and suffered an epiphany. He recovered, but was left with the sudden realization that he had never actually seen Oswin stand and fight. For all he knew, he could be a pack ass in disguise, unable to fell a fly with a short sword if you gave him a long spear and an axe. Hector knew that his brother thought highly of the still-young (to Hector he was always a creaking old man) Oswin of Ostia, but that was it; he had his brother's wood-flimsy opinion, and that was all. His brother had given him books, and only one on military history, and it was obvious that Uther didn't understand him. Who was to say he knew the first thing about what made a good knight? Sometimes Hector wondered just what was so great about Ostia.

Oswin was Uther's personal guardsman, but Hector had always known that his elder brother didn't need protecting. As a result, Oswin was always shadowing him, making sure he didn't make a single false step. Whenever Oswin left to tend to other matters, Hector took initiative, donning unadorned armor, smearing his face with dirt, and putting on a full skullcap to disguise himself for a few rounds in the arena before slinking back to the keep, pretending he had been out shopping in the town square (hah!) Oswin, Hector's primary instructor in the art of war, always asked where Hector had learned his talent for the axe, and Oswin seemed satisfied, at least for the time, with Hector's explanation that it was in his blood. Despite his frequent trips into the castle town to fight and sometimes muscle into a tavern, Hector was still a product of Ostia Keep, imprisoned by its imposing walls even when he left their confines. No matter what they called Oswin or his fellow knights, Hector reckoned, there would never be a wall that stood stronger than the walls of Ostia's greatest castle.

Then Marquess Pherae disappeared, and, against the wishes of his brother, Hector set out to aid his friend Eliwood, and he was at last was able to watch the great Oswin fight for real. Every battle, Oswin took to the field with lance in hand, and, to Hector's chagrin, he almost always fought side by side with Hector himself, his lance shadowing Hector's axe, and Hector realized for the first time that they were indeed brothers-in-arms. Something Uther had said during the last conversation they ever had persisted in his memory. A knight, Uther had said, stands tall for the things he holds dear, and is not afraid to fall.

It was funny, then, as they stood blockading the castle hallway as the enemy soldiers charged forward, that they had become the walls. For all the loitering around and standing obstinate that walls did, they could not protect Ostia like the walking walls of the frontline could. Not even Ostian stone could do that. For the first time, standing on Bern soil with the blood spray of Black Fang lackeys hitting his face, Hector felt proud to be a man of Ostia. No, Ostia wasn't the faceless leader of Lycia cloistered within its city walls. This was Ostia. The land where the walls walked and men reinforced their boasts with cold steel and courage. This armor has saved my life more than once, Oswin had mentioned. Hector could say the same thing. Every battle, Oswin had always stood on the frontline, willing to give his life to buy his allies a few more seconds of fighting, never flinching even when it seemed a hundred arrows were soaring towards him. Neither Hector nor Oswin wanted to be the first to give ground. This was for Ostia, and this was for pride.

But all walls were meant to fall eventually. Hector and Oswin stood on the front lines, battering down anyone who stood in their way. There was a sudden, distant peal of thunder and a bolt of lightning fell from the sky like a hammer, throwing Oswin backwards, his half helm tumbling and rolling off his head.

"Oswin!" Hector screamed, hacking the last knight before him to bits, knocking open the witless man's skull and knocking him to the ground with a heavy crash. Hector knelt and shook the fallen wall. There was a large crack in Oswin's armor and his face was covered with blood. He was a wall, there was no denying that. Hector shook the wall again and cursed. Get the stone and mortar. Get the stone and mortar. Maybe that was the difference, he figured. Walking walls couldn't be built back up even with the strongest mortar in Elibe, and potions and salves only masked the damage. But walking walls, at least, didn't sit in the shadow of a grand castle, waiting forever for something—anything to happen. What good was immortality if it came at the cost of freedom? There was pride in being mortal.

"Hey, Oswin."

"Lord—Hector."

"Thanks. For everything."

"My lord, I have—have only one thing to say."

"Y-yeah? What?"

"If anyone charges against you, or against those—those you wish to protect…do not yield. Stand strong. Always."

Twenty years later, in Araphen, Hector knew what walking walls were meant to do. He had known the original.